Today at work, I had an interesting email debate with a buddy about which Metallica CD is the best. His argument is that Ride the Lightning is the best because Cliff Burton was at his best. That’s a good argument simply because he’s right; Cliff was at his best on that CD. He also mentioned that “One may be the best Metallica song ever, but that doesn’t make Justice the best album ever.” And again, he’s right there too. However, what does make … and Justice for All the best Metallica album of all time is the fact that they took it to the next level for Cliff. They knew what they had lost in him: he was not only an incredible bassist, but he was also a very large contributor to the music of the band. His loss was enormous on so many levels, and to the end, the remaining members (and of course Jason Newsted) knew they had to put out THE BEST music they ever had. And they did.
This is not to say that I don’t love everything about Puppets and Lightning—quite the opposite. I think they’re phenomenal works in their own rights. One of the reasons I think that “Justice” is their best is because for as great as Masters and Lightning are, they poured a TON more energy and anger into Justice because of Burton’s death. They had a lot of reason to be angry, and that album is pure rage, whereas on Puppets you have songs like “The Thing that Should Not Be” which is supposedly about Cthulu, and “Battery,” which for all its energy, isn’t all that angry of a song. With Justice, every single song has a focus of the rage: “Blackened” about destroying the earth; “Dyers Eve” about James’ confusion and loathing of trying to cope with what his parents taught him vs. his real-world experiences; “Harvester of Sorrow” about child abuse; “Frayed Ends of Sanity” dealing mental anguish; “Shortest Straw” dealing with social injustice; and of course “One”—the quintessential anti-war anthem and raging against the personal fall-out of war. That album has a focus like none of their other CDs, and it never gets boring. I can listen to that on repeat pretty much all day, whereas with Puppets or Lightning, I’ll flip to something else after a couple of spins through.
I’m not sure how we ended up on that topic today, but I’m glad we did. I listened to those three today. Good stuff.